Who Tells the Story?

The hardest questions to answer in writing a novel the length of “Knight of the Flame” are those of perspective, of point of view. You spend all this time creating this plot, this intricate mesh of action, reaction, cause, effect, and coincidence that weaves a tale somebody would actually want to hear about. You also spend a lot of effort making a cohesive world and populating it with characters, with complete, three-dimensional people with goals and fears and enemies and people they care about. Then you look back at what you’ve done and you’re quite pleased with what you’ve made. The thread-count of this fabric is high, indeed.
Then, you make a fateful decision that screws it all up: you decide not only to tell the story in a third person limited narrative, but you decide you’re going to allow that “limited” perspective to float between the characters. Crap. Now, not only do you have to make sure you include all these wonderful characters and plot elements, you have to make sure you’re telling the right plot points from the perspective of the right character.
When I first started writing KotF, it was all Caymus, all the time. Well, not all the time, as Be’Var got to run the show a couple of times. Be’Var’s so much fun to write, so how could I possibly resist? Then, a funny thing happened. I got stuck. The group of characters had begun their journey and had arrived at this place (Otvia, for those who’ve read the book), where this event was supposed to happen. It was an important event, but only in that it got the protagonist into another part of the plot. Integral, but not the reason people show up to read the story. The problem was, I’d taken several stabs at this scene, and it just kept going wrong. The characters would find what they found, and Caymus would do what he needed to do, and I’d find that this little, transitive scene was growing in complexity until it was a main plot-point all its own.
What to do? I can’t just not tell the reader what Caymus is doing, as they’d notice the absence. I can’t have Caymus just not act, because it’s simply not in his character. I also can’t let this scene go on for more than a few pages, else the entire pace that I’ve set for the story will come flying apart down like an engine throwing all its pistons.
That’s when I remembered I had all these other characters experiencing the same interaction, but who don’t have anything to do with all these intricate details that Caymus is experience. Any of three of them could see our protagonist doing what he’s doing, but not have to report back everything he’s seeing and doing. That was when I gave Gwenna the reigns for the first time. I re-wrote the scene from her perspective, and it was easy. It just worked.
There are these three questions to ask when it comes to figuring out whose perspective to use when telling a particular part of the story. First, and foremost, who’s going to have the most interesting view of what’s going on? In the case of the scene at the gates of Otvia, Caymus is doing some really interesting stuff, sure, but it’s not all that important, and if the author himself is getting a little bored with all the details, then you can be sure the reader is, too. If we let Gwenna tell the story, though, we not only get another outside view of Caymus, but we get to know a little bit about the other characters, too. Caymus would never think of Milo as “kind”; the term isn’t part of his vocabulary. Gwenna would, though, and there were a couple of moments where a character got to really shine because it was Gwenna, not Caymus, that was telling us about them.
After establishing what’s interesting, the next question is whether this character, now under consideration, knows enough about what’s going on. My first inclination, when I’d thought to switch perspectives at Otvia, was to give the scene to Rill or Milo. Problem is, they don’t get what’s happening, not like she does. People are in trouble. People are hurt. Gwenna’s just spent a lot of time caring for the sick and wounded. She gets it. She understands what Caymus is about to go through, and thus her perspective adds, rather than subtracts from the scene.
The final question is just whether what the characters knows, or what they might discover, is consistent with what the reader already knows. I can’t give Be’Var the scene. Be’Var would take one look at these people they’ve found and be able to tell they’re going to be fine. It takes all the tension from the scene. I also can’t give Y’selle the scene. She knows things about Be’Var that I can’t let the reader know yet, and there’s simply no way I can tell the story from her point of view and not go into those details.
I’m starting book two with all this knowledge beforehand, of course, but it’s not helping as much as I thought. Just this moment, I realized why chapter 1 isn’t quite working for me, and it’s because I’m telling the story from the wrong person’s point of view. Now that I know where I’ve messed up, though, I’m terribly excited about fixing the problem, about turning this flub into a “perfect” tale.

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